Today, our blog will introduce you to Kim Cotton, the UK’s first surrogate mother. Sometimes referred to as the UK’s first commercial surrogate mother, having agreed to carry the baby of an anonymous couple for £6,500 in 1984. Kim made history when she gave birth to baby Cotton on the 4th of January 1985. Following a whirlwind of public backlash and negative press coverage, the law around commercial surrogacy changed only six months later with the introduction of the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. Kim Cotton had not expected the level of scrutiny that followed.
Inspiration struck Kim after watching a television programme on surrogacy, igniting her desire to help infertile couples and earn money whilst at home with her own children. In many ways, the surrogacy was a win-win situation for both Kim and the anonymous couple. However, public and journalistic opinion did not always agree with the ethical implications tied to surrogacy, with newspaper headlines such as “Born to be sold”, “No better than prostitution”, and “Sold for carpets and curtains” Even some of my colleagues recounted how Kim was vilified by the media. The Standard newspaper ran with the heading ‘Ban This Trade in Babies’ and six months after the birth of baby Cotton the Surrogacy Arrangement Act of 1985 was introduced. With the introduction of this Act, commercial surrogacy and advertising surrogacy was prohibited.
Regardless of the scrutiny she faced, Kim became a staunch advocate for surrogacy and even helped another couple have a baby after her initial surrogacy experience. Kim’s second surrogacy was for her friends, and it could not have been more different. The process behind this surrogacy was far more intimate with the parents this time being present at the birth, Kim felt the event to be much more joyful and fulfilling than the initial anonymous surrogate birth. Between her two surrogate births, in 1988, Kim established Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS), which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping people through surrogacy. Through this organisation, over 1000 babies have now been born through surrogacy, including a small number born to same-sex couples.
As the first surrogate mother, Anita Corbin looked for Kim Cotton to include in her project called First Women. Corbin interviewed Cotton for her project and had the following to say about Kim:
“I had to do quite a lot of detective work to find Kim Cotton, Britain’s first surrogate mum, eventually I tracked her down via her business of finding replacement china pieces for broken dinner sets. Kim was very modest and reticent about being part of First Women UK as she felt she hadn’t achieved in the same way as other ‘firsts’ I am so pleased that I managed to persuade her to allow me to come and photograph her at home in 2014. She was welcoming and warm and full of encouragement for my project, loving and giving. It was an emotional session as she told me of her two experiences of surrogacy and how they couldn’t have been more different, the first painful and upsetting and the second an uplifting and joyous birth and handover. I remember clearly how moved I was on hearing her talk of the ‘Gift of Life’ the ultimate gift, how it motivated her and made her determined to make surrogacy acceptable in the UK.“
Kim has expressed her hopes for the future of surrogacy in a British Medical Journal article, stating that she feels the ideal situation would be to allow all surrogacies, free or commercial, and those should be monitored to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all involved. Kim concludes that ‘Whichever method they choose, the benefits experienced by all parties after the successful birth and handover of a long awaited surrogate baby are immeasurable.’
Writing for BioNews in 2019, Kim Cotton stated
“I have always felt that the generosity of spirit that motivates a surrogate mother to help another couple experience the joys of parenthood is second to none. Not a clandestine affair but a beautiful way for a child to be born amidst the love of the participants. The relationships forged often become lifelong friendships, as it should be. None of this would be possible without the incredible resilience that infertile couples demonstrate when they embark on their incredibly daunting journey to parenthood. I have nothing but admiration for their bravery.I feel privileged to work in this field.”
First Women is now in its final week at the Wardlaw Museum and Laidlaw Music Centre, St Andrews. Come along to see more Kim Cotton and more inspirational women until Sunday 8th of January 2023.
First Women UK by Anita Corbin: 100 Portraits of 100 First Women to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, created by photographer Anita Corbin over a decade and launched in 2018.
Blog post by Alisha MacKenzie, Visitor Services Supervisor.